This evening’s visit to Huntington by President Donald Trump will undoubtedly involve the president talking up the coal industry and touting what he continues to insist is a major rebound that will only keep growing.
But here are some things to remember about President Trump and coal:
1. Be wary of assertions or predictions (like this remarkably misleading boasting by Gov. Jim Justice) that another huge coal boom is underway or is just around the corner. Production actually dropped somewhat in the second quarter of this year. And while jobs are up a bit, much of this is in the highly volatile steel-making coal market, and most experts see little evidence that this is going to drive the sort of turnaround that many folks in the coalfields dream is coming.
2. While professing to just absolutely love coal miners, President Trump is overseeing what could be the start of a significant dismantling of many important safety and health protections for coal miners. His Labor Department is working out a settlement of an industry challenge to an important rule that toughened enforcement in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and the recently announced regulatory agenda for the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration delays or drops some key rulemaking initiatives.
3. Coal mining deaths are up so far under the Trump administration. As of this morning, there have been 10 reported coal-mining deaths nationwide in 2017. That’s more than the eight mining deaths that occurred in all of 2016. Meanwhile, the only new effort by MSHA to respond to this is one of those voluntary compliance assistance programs, a program that is drawing criticism from the United Mine Workers union. And not for nothing, but the president still hasn’t appointed anyone to serve as assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health.
UPDATED: MSHA has confirmed this afternoon that another coal miner was killed on the job last evening in Colorado, pushing the number of fatalities this year to 11.
4. While the science continues to show serious environmental damage from coal-mining (and potentially grave threats to public health), the Trump administration is working hard to dismantle new standards aimed at reducing the impacts. Getting rid of the Interior Department’s stream protection rule wasn’t enough, though. Just this week, as the administration prepared for the president’s trip to West Virginia, Interior was touting a move to streamline processing of new mining permits.
5. Black lung is a real worker health crisis in Appalachia. NPR’s Howard Berkes continues to document this disaster (see here and here), but there is little response from policy makers and certainly not from the president who claims to care so much about coal miners.